Oakland jazz singer Kenny Washington plays Petaluma
Kenny Washington would rather play a live show than spend a day in the recording studio. He’d rather sing than talk about singing. And he’d rather revisit great jazz standards of the past than track current fads.
“Mostly, I’m listening to the stuff I grew up admiring,” said Washington, 65. “I’m even listening to songs from 70 to 80 years ago. Everything was so well-done.”
His musical role models include such legendary jazz singers as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme.
“They’re the ones who shaped what I was going for,” Washington said. “I look for melody. That hits my ear before the lyrics do.”
And that’s the kind of sound and mood he plans to bring with him for his live concert Sunday at the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, his very first performance at that venue. He’ll be backed by a piano, bass and drums trio.
“I like performing in smaller, more intimate spaces, not the big venues,” the singer said.
Born in New Orleans, Washington settled in the Bay Area in 25 years ago. Shortly after that, he was cast in a featured role in an off-Broadway jazz theater production called “Fire at Keaton's Bar & Grill,” by saxophonist Roy Nathanson. Washington performed at the New York City debut with Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry and Nancy King. He then went on the road for several European performances. The project was captured on a cast album, released in 2000 on Six Degrees Records.
Later, Joe Locke brought Washington to New York for a week-long run at the Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, which began an annual tradition there. Washington is featured on Locke’s “For The Love of You” from 2010 and has appeared with the Joe Locke Group in Germany, Georgia and Scotland, and at several festivals.
Washington is also the featured vocalist on three recordings by tenor saxophonist Michael O’Neill: “The Long and the Short of It” (2004), “Still Dancin’” (2007) and “New Beginnings” (2014) on Jazzmo Records.
In 2020, Washington recorded his first (and so far only) solo album: “What’s the Hurry?”
“I like live performance,” Washington said. “I’m really uncomfortable in a recording studio. It’s not a natural atmosphere, with the machines and the earphones.”
The veteran jazz singer is excited about making his first appearance at the Cinnabar, following the long isolation many performers have experienced, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been hard on a lot of artists,” he said. “We’re slowly trying to return to some kind of normal.”
What songs will you hear at his show? You’ll have to wait and see.
“I don’t tell people what to expect,” Washington said, “because I don’t know what to expect.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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